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Sophie Grégoire Trudeau: Why women should not have to hold it all together

The unofficial first lady of Canada and longtime mental health advocate shared her secret to maintaining emotional health at Forbes and Know Your Value’s 30/50 Summit in Abu Dhabi.
3rd annual Forbes and Know Your Value 30/50 Summit in Abu Dhabi
Mental health advocate Sophie Grégoire Trudeau speaks at the 3rd annual Forbes and Know Your Value 30/50 Summit in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.Taylor Dieng / MSNBC

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, 49, is tired of the expectation that women must suppress their needs emotionally, mentally and physically in the post-pandemic era.

That’s why the unofficial first lady of Canada and mental health advocate — who will release her upcoming memoir in April, “Closer Together” — took the stage at Forbes and Know Your Value’s 3rd annual 30/50 Summit on Wednesday. She urged women of all ages to prioritize their emotional wellbeing and psychological safety.

“Your needs, you shouldn’t expect the minimum,” Grégoire Trudeau told the audience. “You should expect a maximum of nourishment, presence and help in your life with the people around you. And we shouldn’t have to hold it all together as women.”

3rd annual Forbes and Know Your Value 30/50 Summit in Abu Dhabi
Mental health advocate Sophie Grégoire Trudeau (right) joins 30/50 summit vice chair Huma Abedin (left) and Her Highness AlSayyida Basma Al Said discuss their prescription for emotional literacy and lasting mental health practices at the Forbes and Know Your Value 30/50 Summit in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.Taylor Dieng / MSNBC

She was joined by 30/50 Summit vice chair Huma Abedin, and Omani royal and mental health expert, Her Highness AlSayyida Basma Al Said. A hypnotherapist, Al Said founded the Not Alone Campaign as well as Whispers of Serenity Clinic, the first wholistic mental health clinic of its kind in Oman.

Together, both women have become international ambassadors for fostering emotional literacy and fighting the stigma around mental health issues that keeps so many from seeking care.

“[It’s] a very difficult topic to talk about,” Al Said explained. “When you’re stuck in one region, you have this kind of conception that this is what we grew up in — and it’s true — but when you travel, you notice in the end, we’re all human, we’re all going through the same thing, and I can guarantee nobody can say, ‘my mental health is 100 percent.’”  

In Al Said's experience, breaking down the taboo and getting through to others is all about the approach. "When you talk about mental health, the old ways do not work," she said. "We’re here today to talk about how we are getting stronger as women, we should help each other, but there’s a lot of women that are not getting that help … you have to be creative."

For Grégoire Trudeau, whose candid memoir delves into her own mental health struggles with disordered eating as a young woman, the significance of establishing emotional safety and the ability to talk about a traumatic time proved critical.

 “So, 20 years ago I was starting my career as a television and radio host in Quebec and I went to school with a young woman who had started a [disordered eating] foundation, BACA,” Grégoire Trudeau explained. “She asked me, because she knew I had suffered, you want to get involved? I’m like, absolutely. And the night before announcing what I suffered from to the media — I knew it was the right thing to do — I’m like, I’m not going to have any contracts when people know … because that’s the taboo and the stigma that people had around eating disorders 20 years ago. Now we talk about it more, but it changed my life because trauma, and let’s say just human wounds, pain, suffering is universal.”

Even today, nearly 20 million women in the United States will develop an eating disorder in their lifetime. And women are twice as likely than men to be affected.

That’s why mental health advocates like Grégoire Trudeau urge women to slow down, practice self-care and most importantly, forge connections with others.

“When I shared my story … it was not the easiest thing to do, but it was the right thing to do,” she said. “We’re one trauma away from each other — [it] takes one traumatic life event or a series of chronic stresses to change your life, to change your brain — so in this conference, where we’re talking about the strength of women, the resilience of women, and coming together, we also have to acknowledge that through the pandemic, and post-pandemic … that we need each other, and the connection of our presence to help each other heal.”

And one simple way Grégoire Trudeau practices that mental and emotional healing on a daily basis?

“I sit in silence — I love silence — I go out and move in nature,” she said. “I also like to dance in my kitchen and just love it. And I love human connection … I love good mischief. Who doesn’t? I think we need more playfulness in this world — and it doesn’t mean that we’re light and that there’s no substance — it’s quite the opposite. We should be very wary of … adults who can’t play anymore.”